Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Review: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial America

Imagine if someone found your body 400 years from now. What would they know about you? Would they be able to learn anything from your bones?
Just as forensic scientists can use their knowledge to solve crimes, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists can use similar skills to find out more about people who lived long ago. Sally Walker accompanied scientists on excavations of colonial gravesites in Virginia and Maryland. The burial sites revealed colonists from a variety of backgrounds including a teenaged boy hastily buried in a cellar, a woman of African descent who may have been a slave and a family of wealthy colonists who were buried in lead coffins. Historians knew nothing about these individuals. The scientists studied the gravesites, skeletons and objects nearby. From this information the scientists were able to tell how old the individuals were, whether they were male or female, how hard they worked, what country they came from, and what diseases they had. Anthropologists provided anatomical details of a recovered skull to artists, who then used the data to produce the first sculpture of an American colonist of African ancestry.
Sally Walker clearly explains the archaeological and forensic procedures. The book contains full-color photographs, maps, and other historical documents which help to shed light on the history of the area and the possible identities of the remains. This fascinating book allows us a glimpse into life and death in the colonial period of American history.

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